Ah preserving food, there’s something romantic about it isn’t there? Something that hearkens back to our forefathers – or more likely foremothers [if that is actually a term] when life was simpler and things were more black and white. [ Or was that only Leave it to Beaver?]
The All American Pressure Canner likely marks the pinnacle of home food preservation – at least until home freeze dryers come down a bit more in price.
Boiling water bath canning allows you to preserve high acid and high sugar goods including things like pickles, jams, jellies and fruit in sugar syrup – that is definitely a little to no bar entry point for home food preservation, anyone can and should give it a go.
Pressure canning represents a considerable step up in cost – the canner itself often runs several hundred dollars, with the cream of the crop the 941 All American Pressure Canner clocking in at just under four hundred dollars [US]. Now that investment will allow you to safely put up meats, broths, low acid and low sugar vegetables and fruit but it is quite an investment. That said if you take care of it the unit will likely be still serving your grandchildren it is built wonderfully sound and has no gaskets to fail and the only thing you could loose would be the pressure weight but that is simple enough to secure between batches.
But back to the issue of investment and payoff. I can be a bit of a romantic and an idealist, but there’s a pretty pragmatic streak in me too. So, I have always had to smile when folks would talk about doing a day of preserving, and how wonderful it was, and how great the preserves are, and how quickly they go, only to find out that the sum total of their work was a half dozen jars of jam or pickles. Now, I’m all for gaining experience so that you are comfortable taking on the next incrementally complex task, but this scale hardly makes the time and mess created by the process worth while. Processing food is usually in my experience eminently given to efficiencies of scale. If you are preserving something from a bumper harvest or purchase make enough to last for your family – or even better enough to last for your immediate family and others around you.
A pressure canner can save you loads of money by allowing you to take advantage of buying opportunities and preserving food for yourself. I’ve paid for my canner several times over by putting up jar after jar of hearty turkey stock, bone broth or fish. Note I said “can save” not “will save” in order to realize the savings potential you have to use it – and invest the time in the process.
For example, yesterday alone I put up 25 pounds of salmon – now the store was selling it as a teaser at 2.48 a pound. I would have purchased more but that was all I could over a couple of visits before they sold out. As it happens canned salmon is also on sale a 213g tin for 2.97. After you’ve sharpened your pencil and figured things out to buy the same quantity of salmon canned would cost a hundred and thirty-five dollars, a difference of eighty-two bucks.
Now granted I’ve already sunk the investment into the necessary jars and I use Tattler reusable canning lids which while more expensive than the steel ones are reusable time and again – even when pressure canned. This latter point is especially relevant because while you can probably get away with reusing lids in good condition from water bath canned jars the higher vacuum drawn by the pressure canning process effectively sees you destroy the steel lids when you remove them from a pressure canned jar. Even if they look like they are ok I’ve found that the failure rate shoots up making it too costly in terms of time to bother to attempt a reuse – so Tattler lids while initially expensive start to make a lot of sense.
Canning is also a great means to add cheap but healthy convenience foods to your pantry. The goose and turkey stock form the backbone of loads of hearty soups served in our home throughout the cool months. Being able to dump a jar of turkey meat and stock into the slow cooker toss in some frozen and dehydrated veggies and a couple of chopped up potatoes, rice or pasta and walk away knowing that lunch or dinner is pretty much ready when you want it – or more likely in our house is only going to require pulling together some quick whole wheat biscuits or popovers – is wonderfully convenient, and makes it easy to not be tempted to head out for ho-hum meals which can really add up financially.
Now if you are tempted to opt for a smaller pressure canner I’d advise you not to. Where boiling water bath canning has fast cycles – often 10 minutes once a boil resumes – pressure canner cycles often span four or more hours and including the time to boil the water in the canner and begin venting steam for at least ten minutes, the process cycle itself – which for fish is 110 minutes, and then the time needed for the canner to cool down and see the pressure drop to zero. This means that your capacity is going to be capped at two to maybe four loads per day rather than the dozens of batches that could be boiling water processed in the same time. Remember, making the canner pay means using it and really taking advantage of it when opportunity comes – so spend the extra and buy the biggest unit you can get – which is the 941.
I’m going to offer a caveat to that advice – the 941 is really best suited to being on a BBQ side burner, a turkey burner or a big gas stove. It is a bit too hefty to go on an electric range, so if you don’t have those options and will need to be using your electric stove to heat the canner – well you’ll have to step down in size. Additionally, weight may be a factor. The 941 weighs in close to 40 pounds empty which is a reasonably heavy load, though the handles are excellent making keeping a grip on it reasonable. Don’t figure on moving it when full.
All in all these are great tools, that while expensive can pay for themselves and add a lot of convenience and resiliency to your family’s larder and budget.